One Sweet Free-For-All

Homemade holiday gifts are always foremost in my mind as we prepare to enter into December, and a solid plan of attack is a must for optimal organization. The question is always what to make, and what would everyone on my list enjoy most, but it’s never up for debate that these gifts are to be edible, and most definitely sweet. Beyond just picking out the perfect cookies or quick bread though, the hardest part of picking out the perfect treats is finding those that would suit the friends with nut-allergies, or loved ones that are gluten-free. Hardest of all though, is accommodating those with a low tolerance for sugar, but still have a discerning sweet tooth.

Well, it may sound too good to be true, but I just found the answer to all my holiday gift troubles in one convenient package: Sweet Freedom, by Ricki Heller.

Not only does this lovingly compiled cookbook cover all the bases from breakfast delights to elaborate cakes and pies, but every last recipe is specifically labeled for allergens, and makes use of natural sweeteners. Ricki is all about eating consciously and with compassion, and you can practically taste the care that went into formulating every last treat in this book.

Scoping out my options for holiday gifts, I hit the cookie section first, and knew immediately that the Ultra Fudgy Brownies had to be on my list. Now, bear in mind that I’m very picky about my brownies, but these still made the cut! Though somewhat flat, each thin square packed in so much intense chocolate flavor with the perfect amount of chew, they were pretty darn close to brownie perfection. No one would have guessed that they were made of barley and spelt flour, and my family proved that point; the whole batch disappeared within a day or two! A definite keeper, for the holidays or just any old day.

Seeking out something simple that could appease the less chocolate-crazed on my list, the Classic Peanut Butter Cookies were calling my name. Simple enough to whip together in minutes, such a quick and easy recipe would definitely be handy when it comes time for the Christmas crush. And let me tell you, these satisfy not just a craving for sweets, but are very modestly sweetened with agave, so I was tempted to call 3 or 4 of them a balanced breakfast! With an addictive hit of salt bringing out the high, fresh notes of peanut, I was glad that I made my cookies rather small, because I didn’t feel so badly about eating a handful of them at a time!

Thinking more towards little morsels and candies, I was thrilled to see Ricki’s recipe for Marbled Halva, a treat I haven’t had in ages. Subtracting the marble and adding a good handful of pistachios instead, each square gem was striking in color and would have fit well in a beautiful cellophane bag. Admittedly, I made these a while ago and don’t remember too much beyond how intensely sesame-y they tasted, and that they had a nice soft chew… But I do know that they sure didn’t last long, even with only me eating them.

Veering off track from my holiday gift mission, I just couldn’t resist the siren song of the Banana Chocolate Chip Mini-Loaves / Muffins. The ideal use for overripe bananas in my eyes, these didn’t disappoint. Each muffin held just enough chocolate to accent the fruity baked good, without overwhelming it and turning it into more of a dessert. A fine, moist crumb created by a no-fuss batter exceeded expectations, and was far lighter than so many other brick-like vegan banana muffins. In hindsight, this one may not be such a bad choice as a gift, too!

While I wish I could go through and make every single recipe from Sweet Freedom just to “test” which might be best for my holiday cookie platters and any other sweet presents, I have a strong feeling that every last one of them are winners. But if you don’t want to take my word for it, just try out one of the many free recipes on Ricki’s blog. It will definitely be one sweet holiday with this book in tow, and the best part is, you won’t have to feel bad about indulging a little- Or a lot!